On College Baseball, Broadening Horizons, the Cape Cod League and the ACC
All I really wrote about at Dewey's House was the Red Sox. I kept an eye on the rest of the league, played fantasy baseball and all that but did not take a very keen interest in even Minor League Baseball, much less amateur ball.
I knew that would have to change when I accepted Rich's invitation to contribute regularly at Baseball Analysts. Rich and Bryan's site has become known for its dependability and insight not just on Major League baseball past and present, but Minor League and College baseball as well.
Brushing up on College baseball in order to produce this piece in February...in Boston...has not come naturally. Whereas Rich, situated in Long Beach, California, is surrounded by baseball powerhouses and even attended Saturday's USC-Long Beach State tilt, I am here battling the cold in a region where the top baseball program's field is better known for hosting raucous football tailgates than it is for playing host to any sort of quality amateur baseball.
To be fair, I make it sound worse than it is. In fact, Massachusetts is something of an amateur baseball hotbed. The obvious reason for this is that the state hosts the finest summer amateur league in the country: the Cape Cod League. Its alums read like a who's who of the best Major Leaguers that played college ball. Each summer many of the nation's most promising underclassmen descend on the Cape, ditch aluminum for wood, and suit up for teams in places like Cotuit instead of Corvallis or Coral Gables, or Chatham in lieu of Chapel Hill or Charlottesville.
My grandparents always had a place in Cape Cod, and my grandfather and I used to attend a number of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox games (incidentally Y-D won the 2006 CCL title). Anyone with even an inkling of baseball interest who spends some of his or her summers on Cape Cod possesses warm memories of Cape League baseball.
The second reason that amateur baseball is better than one might suspect around here is that Boston College is now competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The biggest conference games on BC's slate used to be Notre Dame, St. John's and UCONN. Now local fans of amateur baseball no longer have to wait until their summer vacations for quality play. No, the Eagles will play host to two top-10 teams in North Carolina and Virginia, and also to national players Wake Forest and North Carolina State as well.
All of this is a longwinded way of saying that because I am on board with Baseball Analysts and determined to expand my baseball knoweledge base into the Minor League and College games, where I am situated geographically offers me no excuses. All Summer long I will be able to take in the best amateurs in baseball on Cape Cod and in the interim, I will have national powers coming in and out of Chestnut Hill. To top it all off, my high school alma mater, the tiny Roxbury Latin School (280 boys or so in grades 7-12), boasts Baseball America's 5th rated high school prospect. Jack McGeary is a 6'3", 200-pound southpaw who has already committed to Stanford. You can be sure I will be making my way over to watch him pitch this Spring.
With the College season kicking into full gear this weekend, I am going to try my hand at offering up something of a preview. Below are the nation's top 10 teams according to the latest coaches poll, and to tie the piece together, I will identify the respective teams' Cape League participants. In addition, I will note each program's 2007 Team USA selections because these players tend to plan on playing in the Cape League before deciding to suit up for the national team.
This will by no means be your catch-all preview for the college season. It's simply a way of offering a glimpse at some of the top teams and their CCL participants. At the end, I will provide a list of links where you can find more comprehensive college coverage.
#1 - Rice
The Owls are coming off a 57-13 campaign in 2006, one in which they fell short in Omaha but ended up ranked third in the nation. They started this season off in fine fashion Saturday, with a 5-0 win over Central Missouri State. Tyler Henley, Rice's leadoff man and center fielder, was an integral part of Yarmouth Dennis's championship team this past summer, hitting .286/.397/.552. Southpaw Cole St. Clair played for Team USA.
#2 - Clemson
Coming off an ACC regular season title, an ACC Tournament championship and an appearance in Omaha, you could say hopes are high this Spring for the Tigers. Clemson may boast the nation's best right side of the infield, with Taylor Harbin manning second base and Andrew D'Alessio at first. Harbin struggled at the plate in the Cape League last summer for the Falmouth Commodores but was fantastic in his sophomore college season, batting .319/.361/.520. For his part D'Alessio capped his .312/.380/.648 Clemson campaign with a .344/.438/.443 summer for the Harwich Mariners. Both are considered fantastic glovesmen. Left-handed reliever Daniel Moskos had been slated to play for the Cotuit Kettleers before being selected for Team USA.
#3 - Miami FL
The Hurricanes are also coming off of an Omaha appearance and looking to contend for both a conference and national title. They may want to narrow their focus for the time being and simply try and stack up against the likes of the Mercer Bears. The 'Canes dropped their first two games of the season to Mercer this weekend. Miami boasts a strong weekend rotation that includes Manny Miguelez, who pitched respectably last summer for the Orleans Cardinals. Jemile Weeks, Miami's star sophomore second baseman, was earmarked for the Brewster Whitecaps before deciding to compete for Team USA. With an unbelievable recruiting class to boot, the 'Canes should turn things around and make noise in 2007.
Like Miami, the Gamecocks will be unveiling a phenomenal recruiting class and are the SEC favorites in 2007. Coming off of a 2006 year in which they went 41-25 and lost to conference rivals Georgia in the Super Regionals, South Carolina should come out hungry for a trip to Omaha, where they have not been since 2004 (a drought as far as the Gamecocks are concerned). Two sophomores who were two of the very best the Cape League had to offer this past summer will lead the way in 2007 for USC. Justin Smoak is a switch hitting first baseman with a great glove who may very well be the first pick in 2008's amateur draft. He was the CCL MVP, hitting .286/.382/.565 for the Cotuit Kettleers. Reese Havens, the Gamecocks shortstop, joined Smoak in Cotuit and impressed scouts with his solid approach from the left side of the plate and strong arm at shortstop.
#5 - North Carolina
After losing last year's decisive third game of the College World Series Championship set to Oregon State in heartbreaking fashion, the 'Heels will be a team on a mission in 2007. Six North Carolina players participated in the 2006 Cape Cod League and while hard-throwing closer Andrew Carignan and right-handed starter Robert Woodard both looked strong, position players Josh Horton, Chad Flack, Reid Fronk and Matt Spencer all struggled. The Tarheels will need significant contributions from all of these players in order to reach their lofty goals for this season. Sophomore catcher Tim Federowicz played for Team USA in lieu of joining the Chatham Athletics.
#6 - Texas
Augie Garrido's club went 41-21 last year but finished in disappointing fashion as their season ended abruptly at home in the regionals. This year they are the Big 12 favorites once again and will be depending on their five Cape Cod League participants to help fulfill their aspirations. Southpaws Kyle Walker and Austin Wood struggled on the Cape this past year, as did outfielder Kyle Russell. On the other hand the two Wareham Gatemen, left-handed pitcher Riley Boening and third baseman Bradley Suttle both looked strong. Boening's highlight was a 5-0 shutout of Justin Smoak and the heavy hitting Kettleers in the CCL playoffs, a game in which he struck out 14 batters. Another sophomore catcher, Preston Clark, pleayed for Team USA over the summer. The Longhorns split their first two contests in Round Rock against the University of San Diego to start the season this weekend, and then dropped the rubber match yesterday.
#7 - Arkansas
Like Texas, Arkansas's season ended in 2006 after losing at home in the regionals. Arkansas started the 2007 season this weekend by dropping Lousiana Tech in the opener Friday night, then the Razorbacks lost on Saturday only to take yesterday's game to close out the weekend series. Shaun Seibert, a Brewster Whitecap last summer who posted a CCL best 0.39 ERA and compiled a 6-0 W-L record, will be key to any success the Hogs have in 2007. Junior lefty Nick Schmidt spurned the Harwich Mariners for Team USA.
#8 - CS Fullerton
The Titans have started strong by sweeping this weekend's set from Stanford to kick the season off. Fullerton had a phenomenal 2006 season, going 50-15 and losing only to eventual runner-ups North Carolina in the CWS semi-finals. Neither Matt Wallach, Evan McArthur nor Jared Clark really impressed in Cape League action last summer but make no mistake, this Titans team is once again loaded. One of baseball's most promising prospects, right-handed pitcher Wes Roemer, played for the national team over last summer.
#9 - Virginia
The Cavaliers met the same fate as Texas and Arkansas in 2006, losing on their home turf in the Regionals. This year, UVA will look to live up to expectations unprecedented in the history of the school's baseball program. Their #9 ranking is their highest ever. Now they have to show they belong in the top-10. Their best player, everyone's all-world Sean Doolittle, does it all. He plays first, hits a ton, is on base all the time and in his spare time pitches well enough to be on the Roger Clemens Award watch list heading into 2007. He was slated to play for the Harwich Mariners in 2006 but opted to play for Team USA. Jeremy Farrell, David Adams and Brandon Guyer are all highly regarded but struggled over the summer in the CCL. Patrick Wingfield saw very limited action for Yarmouth-Dennis.
#10 - Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt had a solid 2006 campaign, going 38-27 and losing in Atlanta to Georgia Tech in the regionals. Vandy has high hopes for 2007 and rightfully so. In addition to their two best players, who did not make their way to the Cape (David Price and Pedro Alvarez, who played for Team USA), Vanderbilt boasts several quality CCL participants. Right-handed starter Ty Davis and SS/OF Dominic de la Osa looked best amongst the Commodores on the Cape last summer, while Diallo Fon, Ryan Flaherty and David Macias also took part.
For some of the most comprehensive coverage of amateur baseball on the web, be sure to visit the following sites:
Baseball America's College Baseball Coverage (lots of premium content)
Boyd's World (the most comprehensive and sophisticated statisitcal coverage of College Baseball)